At Botany we spend a lot of time talking about plants. Our customers come to us with all sorts of questions, starting with the basics of watering and sunlight to troubleshooting for yellowing leaves and brown spots and how to propagate different plants. People want to know the plants that are indestructible, which ones are the best for air purfying and what plant will survive in a windowless bathroom (the short answer to that question is none). Keeping things alive can be hard! We all need a little help and advice sometimes, that is why we are launching Happy Houseplants, a online series sharing our best practices for the care and maintenance of your plants.
We always tell customers not to rush into buying a plant, to think about their environment first. The basics conditions you need to consider when choosing a plant - so that it can thrive - are sunlight, water, humidity and temperature. Plants usually tell you what they want in some way and a small change in how you look after it can make a huge difference (and even save a dying plant)!
The most important thing to consider when choosing your house plant is the quality and quantity of light, so figure this out first. Most plants prefer bright light so where you position your plant in your room should depend on which way your windows are facing. Generally speaking;
South facing windows = Bright light. Directly in front of the window is a full sun position - ideal for cacti and succulents, Oxalis and Beefsteaks also enjoy some sun so being on or near the sill will make them happy. Elsewhere in the room will be getting bright indirect light so you have a lot of options to play with Asparagus Ferns, Swedish Ivy, Hoya, Tradescantia and many more.
West/East facing = Moderate light. Light can drop of quickly so best not to place plants too far from the window, good plants to consider are Philodendrons or a Ficus.
North facing = Low light. Place your plants directly on the sill or choose a plant that can survive in shade like Aspidistra, Sanseveria or Calathea.
While most plants like bright light they usually need protecting from direct sun, this could be managed pulling a shade across or moving them during the hot summer months.
The easiest way to kill your plants is overwatering, so chill out. As far as watering goes we could tell you to water your plants every x amount of days but realistically that doesn't really mean much, besides proper care relies on understanding the changes in season and environment, so we recommend testing the soil with your fingers to decide when and how much to water your plants. Most plants need watering when the first inch or so of soil has dried out, for low maintenance plants like cacti and succulents let them dry out completely before watering them again. Ferns, Calathea and other tropical plants tend prefer their soil to be kept moist, so keep them topped up with water throughout the week and make sure they don't dry out completely,
Always water your plants directly on the soil around the base of the plant, if you have a pot with drainage let them soak for 15-30 minutes then remove the excess water from the saucer. If your plant is in a pot without drainage (we'll come back to that later) just water your soil a little at a time until the soil is saturated with water but isn't soggy. If you see wilting leaves, give your plant a good soak and as a general rule reduce your waterings over winter.
HUMIDITY AND TEMPERATURE
Some plants like Ferns, Begonias or Ficus' prefer higher humidity, you can help create a more humid environment by spray misting your plants with water or grouping them together over winter. Symptoms of a plant suffering from low humidity are brown tips or spots on the leaves or if the leaves are falling off altogether. A basic rule of thumb is if you are comfortable with the temperature in the room most plants will be, try to avoid putting your plant near draft windows, to close to the radiator or in hot/cold spots.
Finally, it may sound a bit harsh but the best way to learn how to look after plants is to kill a few. Usually if you pick the dead leaves off, check the soil and put it somewhere a bit brighter you can save it.